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Unit 669 is the name of the Israeli Air Force heliborne medevac extraction unit. Unit 669 was founded in 1974, based on lessons learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when an ad-hoc medevac unit made some 5000 extractions. Its initial mandate was to extract and provide initial medical treatment to downed (and possibly injured) pilots beyond enemy lines. However, in later years the unit also participated in extraction of soldiers of other arms of the Israeli Defense Forces, especially special forces (Sayeret) fighters in operations beyond enemy lines and seamen in distress.The unit is composed of three flights: extraction, which has a company of fighters, evacuation, which has a company of airborne doctors,airborne paramedics and airborne medics, and a technical support group.
Training and peacetime operations Due to the possibility of having to fight their way to casualties beyond enemy lines, unit fighters are highly trained in special forces tactics, and become highly efficient ground soldiers in addition to their high level of paramedic training. A unit fighter's training lasts 18 months. Unit fighters are expected to sign on to an extra 16 months of service following their three-year mandatory service.In peacetime, Unit 669 serves as civilian medevac for hikers who have gotten lost or stuck and need extraction from Israel's deserts or canyons. These civilian operations, while expensive, help train the unit fighters for their battle-time roles. There is an ongoing debate whether extracted hikers should be forced to pay at least part of the extraction cost, especially in cases of hiker negligence or improper call for extraction. However, as of 2005 no such measures have been taken.
Famous extractions and figures Although not extracted by unit 669 a notable extraction is that of Ron Arad's pilot who was extracted by a random AH-1 Cobra (combat helicopter). An unconventional extraction, to say the least, the Cobra lowered allowing the pilot to grab on to its runners while transporting him back over the border.One of the unit commanders (1978-1980), Dr. Efraim Sneh, later became a Brigadier General, a Knesset member and Minister (Health; Transportation; deputy Defense Minister).
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